Vigil episode 1 recap: Major star killed off in opening episode

Series writer Tom Edge breaks down the huge death in the series opener as part of our episode one recap.

Martin Compston in BBC One's Vigil

*Major spoilers for Vigil episode one ahead*

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Well, it’s safe to say that brand new BBC One drama Vigil got off to a dramatic start with its first episode tonight. Within the first 10 minutes or so, we saw a fishing trawler drowned, some angry words on board the titular submarine, and then – in a huge early twist – the death of a character played by none other than Line of Duty‘s Martin Compston.

Compston was one of the biggest names in a star-studded cast for the show, and so the fact his character Craig Burke didn’t survive past the opening credits undoubtedly goes down as a huge shock. And the show’s creator and lead writer Tom Edge has spoken exclusively to RadioTimes.com about the dramatic moment, explaining why it was so vital to cast an actor of Compston’s pedigree in the role for maximum impact.

“You know, I think there were a few things,” he explained. “[Production company] World has almost developed a reputation for killing extremely good actors before the final credits have run on the first episode – I’m sure one day, the entire announced cast of one of their shows will be killed within 30 seconds!

“But actually, what we really needed from that character is somebody who is good enough to make a really indelible mark with the limited time that they have on the screen,” he continued.  “And certainly, Martin can do that. And I also feel like, I don’t want to spoil anything, but I feel like it’s more, there is more than just his sort of ghost that sort of hangs over as a whole.

“I think his voice and his intention and ultimately, the reason behind his death… I think they go a long way with it. And hopefully, he is a character who right until the final moments, you feel like you have a relationship with. We knew we wanted someone great to take that on and yes, he really was.”

Asked how Compston felt about taking on the role, Edge added: “You know what, even though there were limitations to how much we were filming with him because of the nature of what happens to him, his approach was still really exacting. And we had a really good dialogue about the nature of the video messages that he leaves. And he worked really hard and was really precise.

“And I think that came from knowing not only that he’s a really committed actor who was always going to do a great job, but those scenes had to tell an enormous impact compared to the time he would be on screen, so I’m really grateful to him for taking that on.”

So where does Craig Burke’s death leave us? Well, the official explanation provided by the Navy is that he died of a heroin overdose, but it very quickly becomes clear that something a little more sinister is going on. Detective Amy Silva (Suranne Jones) is tasked with spending three days on the submarine to get to the bottom of the mystery, but after her rather dramatic arrival on board it is soon apparent that not everyone in the crew is going to be particularly cooperative. For the most part, she is left in the company of the boat’s coxswain Elliot Glover (Shaun Evans) who appears to be one of the more welcoming people on the submarine, although admittedly that isn’t saying a lot, especially when we consider that Evans has teased that the character “has a secret”.

Anyway, by the end of this episode Amy has already deduced several key things about the case –  including the fact that the evidence suggests the heroin was placed in Craig’s nose by someone looking to cover up a more suspicious death. It seems far more likely that, rather than dying of an overdose, Craig died of a delayed brain haemorrhage arising from when he was assaulted earlier that evening. That would explain why there were bruises on his head, and why Amy discovered blood splattered on a wall near where Craig was last spotted alive – while the boat’s medic Tiffany Docherty (Anjli Mohindra) also reports giving Craig a paracetamol that night after he complained of a headache.

As for who could be responsible for the death, it’s a little soon to say just yet, but there are certainly a few early contenders. Officer Hadlow (Sex Education‘s Adam Swindells) certainly seems rather sketchy, and moreover, was the first person to discover Craig’s death, while his colleague Adams was among the last people to see him alive. Then there’s Craig’s bunkmate Gary Walsh, who appears to have a less than positive view of the deceased, and the boat’s second in command Mark Prentice (Adam James) who seems particularly eager to undermine Amy’s investigation. It’s far too soon to draw any conclusions yet, but it’s probably worth keeping an eye out for these particular crew members going forwards.

Amy’s mission is also made all the more difficult by a few other factors. For one, it is clear that being on the submarine is bringing traumatic memories back to the fore – with a few snippets of flashbacks revealing that she was in some kind of car accident that also saw her plunged under the sea  – while we also learn that she is taking medication for anxiety and depression. What’s more, the boat is clearly in the midst of a seemingly unrelated crisis – linked to the aforementioned incident with the fishing trawler.

Towards the end of the episode, it is revealed that it was in fact another submarine that led to that boat sinking, which spells all kinds of problems for Vigil: most significantly that the boat is potentially being followed by an enemy submarine. This possibility is the subject of a brilliant piece of dialogue between Vigil’s captain Neil Newsome (Paterson Joseph) and Amy, during which he responds to her claim that the country is not at war with the ominous retort, “That is an illusion. We’ve always been at war.” This seems like a theme that is going to play a major role throughout the series.

Vigil
BBC

Meanwhile back on land, Amy’s colleague Kirsten Longacre (Rose Leslie) is assisting her with her investigation by looking into Burke’s past. Kirsten was chosen for this mission by Amy specifically due to the fact that they know each other – and we learn during this episode that they have previously had some kind of relationship together, one that did not end happily but which will come in handy when Kirsten sends coded messages to Amy.

Edge explained that this part of the story was very interesting for him to write, saying, “You have this need for police colleagues to be able to communicate with each other when they know that every message will be scrutinised for legitimate national security purposes by the Navy, and so their quick solution is to be able to kind of speak to each other using the stock of stories that they have in common as indicators of where Amy might wish to look without the Navy being cued that that is their line of travel.

“So functionally, that approach gives them a kind of an unusual way to operate. So they’re clearly focused on the job, but actually she is being forced to mine her memory to try and elucidate the things that Kirsten is telling her.”

Presumably, we’ll learn more about Amy and Kirsten’s relationship going forwards, but Kirsten’s main focus in this first episode was investigating anti-Trident activist Jade Antoniak (Lauren Lyle), who by the end of the episode we learn was actually Craig’s girlfriend. This leads Kirsten to discover a key piece of evidence in Craig’s room – stashed inside a plastic chair is a memory stick that includes several password-protected files and one video of Craig addressing the camera in a very intriguing fashion.

“Off the top of my head, there’s 20 different ways you could kill Vigil’s crew single-handed,” he says. “And nobody talks about it. Not the skipper, not the top brass – they only want silence. There’s corruption and fear, there’s men who are being killed and the world still have no idea. See we look like a crew, and that’s all that matters to them. I’ve had some of them come at me, they’ll come at me again, I know that. But they’ve left me dead under two miles of water, well here I am – I’ve got things to tell you.”

And if that wasn’t enough to keep your attention going into the second episode, the opener also ended with the frantic news of a system failure abroad the submarine, and Kirsten running into some trouble with the Navy police. Well, they promised us it was going to be tense…

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Want more Vigil content? Find out who sings the Vigil theme song or discover where Vigil is filmed with our location guide.

Vigil continues on BBC One on Monday 30th August at 9pm. If you’re looking for more to watch, check out our TV Guide or visit our Drama hub for the latest news.